Shop smart and stay safe with these six credit card safety tips

Michael Archambault

Michael Archambault

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Sometimes when we use technology to make things easier and more convenient for ourselves, we do so at the risk of our own personal security. Thirty years ago, if someone was to steal your wallet they would only have the cash contained within it, but if someone was to steal your wallet today, they would have access to your entire bank account. The convenience of credit cards that allow us instantaneous access to all of our money anywhere and at any time also provides the same convenience to criminals. In the wake of the recent Target Security Breach, during which over 110 million consumer credit cards were compromised, we are looking at how to stay safe while shopping online and at your favorite local hot spots with these six smart safety tips.

Shopping online provides the convenience of being able to shop from your home in your favorite pair of cozy pajamas, but it is important to know a few safety tricks before beginning your Amazon shopping spree.

  • Know whom you are buying from – While this may sound like an obvious piece of advice, many consumers will simply shop anywhere to get the best deal. Try to stick to more commonly known websites such as Amazon or Overstock. It may not seem like any harm is done by shopping on side-alley websites, but you must remember that you are literally handing over your personal contact information and credit card number when you type them into the site. Just because a website has logos that say they are approved by Visa or MasterCard does not make them any better either – anyone can find those “official” logos and place them on their own site without direct approval from credit card companies.

  • This is not to say that you cannot shop from smaller websites, but instead to use caution when doing so. As you read on, we will talk about safer and more secure methods for purchasing from sites that you may not have 100% familiarity with.

  • Verify the site that you are on – Just because it appears, you are on Amazon.com, does not actually mean you are; this can be especially true if you have followed a link from your email or any other source. The safest way to insure you are actually shopping on the correct website and not a fake look-alike (known as a phishing site), is to manually type the URL into the address bar yourself.

  • In addition, you want to make sure that the website you are purchasing from is transmitting your data securely. When surfing the web, there are too common types of ways that a website communicates with your computer. The first type of communication is called “HTTP”, while the second is “HTTPS”; the ‘S’ designates a secure transmission of data. When checking out on a website, take a look at your address bar and see if the “HTTP” that normally precedes the website URL has changed to the more secure “HTTPS”. Many modern web browsers these days, such as Google’s Chrome, have their address bar change to the color green to designate a secure connection.

  • Use a secure money transfer service – Thanks to companies such as PayPal, you now have the option to use a third party to help pay for your transactions. Obtaining a PayPal account is one of the smartest decisions you can make while shopping on the web. Essentially, you give PayPal your credit card information and they then pay the website you have chosen to shop at. This keeps your credit card information in one place and prevents thieves from obtaining your precious digits. If you have the option to use PayPal on a website – it might be a good idea to do so. PayPal will even jump in and help if you have been scammed; this can become especially handy on websites such as eBay where you do not know exactly who is sending you the purchased item. If you aren’t a fan of PayPal, using Visa gift cards make a great way to shop on smaller unknown sites – if your information is compromised, all that is at risk is the remaining balance on the disposable card.

  • Setup online notifications with your bank – Many major banks these days, such as Chase or Bank of America, allow their users to sign up for instant notifications via their websites. You can set alerts when a large amount of money has been spent or can be notified of suspicious activity. If you know you normally spend, $50-$150 when out, then it might be a good idea to receive a notification if over $200 has been charged to your card. Simple measures such as these allow you to take action as soon as trouble strikes.

  • Take caution with your password – One of the most common ways scammers attempt to steal credit card, social security, and bank account information is by fraudulent email. It is important to note that a bank or other financial institution will never email you directly for your password information. In addition, official emails will most likely refer to you by your full name and not a generic “Sir/Madam” greeting. If you do need to check on your account, as mentioned above, it is best to type the website address directly into your internet browser and not click any of the links contained with the email. If you are still unsure if the email is safe, it is always a good idea to call your bank or other provider directly using the number on their company website to double check.

  • Keep your credit card in an RFID proof wallet – While swiping your card’s magnetic strip is still the most common way to engage in a transaction, many new credit cards have imbedded RFID chips in them. These special chips allow you to tap your card against a payment device and wirelessly have your information transmitted. The problem is that a passerby with the right scanning equipment can do the same thing to steal your credit card information without it ever physically leaving your purse or wallet. RFID wallets can easily be found online and are a great preventive measure from having your info stolen from right out of the air. Not sure if your card has this wireless ability? Simply look for a wireless icon on the front or back of your card; it will resemble the same wireless icon that you normally see on your laptop, tablet, and smartphone.

Lastly, Carry cash or a disposable card – Sometimes technology can truly help us out, but at other times, it can put us in danger. If you know you are heading out to a place where possibly unsecure transactions could occur, it might be a better option to use cash or a refillable bankcard. Places like fairs, flea markets, and food vendors might be a place you want to shop, but you do not know exactly what they are doing with your card, and chances are you will never see them again. Sometimes, as all of these tips suggest, the simplest way to stay safe is the easiest.

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